“In spring of 2020, as the pandemic took hold in the U.S., most companies switched some or all of their employees to remote work out of necessity. What they may not have known at the time is that doing so will likely change the American workplace forever.” CIO Writer, Mindy Zetlin observes.
Before COVID-19, most organizations had either considered and rejected the notion of remote work, or never even considered it, says Gartner VP and analyst Suzanne Adnams. “They thought they’d never be able to figure out their processes, or that their culture would be affected.”
This rapidly shifting dynamic is playing out across all industries, calling into question certain assumptions about what the future of work would look like just nine months ago. Here’s a closer examination of how the pandemic has impacted CIOs’ outlooks and responsibilities when it comes to supporting the workforce of the future.
The end of 9-to-5
“A lot of companies are reconsidering all these outdated workplace practices,” says Jacob Morgan, futurist and author of The Future Leader. “Do we need a vacation policy? Annual performance reviews? Do we need people to expense everything, even if it’s only $5?”
But the foundational question most companies now face is, What constitutes a workday?
“…Jobs themselves won’t look the same. “Likely as a result of this, you will be able to hire the skills and expertise you need anywhere in the world that they are,” Adnams says. “We’re looking at a likely increase in contingent or gig workers, people hired for a very specific purpose in a defined timeframe. We’re also going to see a separation of roles from skills. The focus will be on what skills, what experience, what expertise you bring to a particular environment, and not so much what your title is.”
Reimagining the office of the future
Sarah Pope, VP of digital workplace and future of technology at Capgemini Invent, says she’s hearing diverging opinions on whether tomorrow’s offices will be smaller and/or fewer. In the meantime, she notes, some high-profile companies have made big bets by closing some large offices and opening smaller satellite offices that are closer to where employees live. “To me, those are indicators that they are seeing a permanent change to remote work, or maybe what you might call a hub-and-spoke working model, with offices outside of the large metro districts we’re used to.”
These changes will be helped along by a trend several experts see coming: a growing need to include climate change and environmental concerns in corporate planning. For example, Pope notes, San Francisco’s Bay Area Metropolitan Transport Commission recently voted in a measure mandating large employers to have 60 percent of employees working remotely on any given day.
The CIO’s new key metric: Remote work success
In the near term, many CIOs are now accountable for user experience in a way they never were before. “Work from home success has been added to the CIO’s KPIs,” Labarta notes. Meanwhile, the honeymoon period — when employees were grateful to IT just for making remote work possible — is now ended.
“Looking ahead, there are going to be new standards, sort of like when consumers first got an Apple iPhone and it changed their expectations for what they needed from a smartphone for good,” says Pope. “Employees are going to want the tools and technologies they use to make it easy for them to be as productive, and to feel as plugged in to their work culture and community, sitting at home as they would be walking down the hall at the office.”
The bottom line
“Our cloud costs have gone up, and so have expenses for storage and security,” Labarta says. He hopes to make up for some of this with savings on printing costs and on bandwidth usage at the office. “But that will be a trailing savings,” he says.
But if suddenly supporting huge numbers of remote employees put a strain on IT departments and their budgets, it also created a unique opportunity for IT leaders, experts say.
“With more non-IT business units now working remotely, there is greater interest in and greater appreciation for what the IT organization can bring to the enterprise,” Adnams says. “CIOs right now can leverage that high profile to make significant advances in the technology they have in place — because now the rest of the organization has a clearer view that their jobs are dependent on it.”